This semester, we are taking our students through the early part of Acts, focusing on what a Christian community should look like. For the past two weeks, we have been setting up how this original community started. Last night, I focused on Acts 2 and the day of Pentecost.
As I was preparing, what struck me was the brief timeline between the crucifixion of Jesus and Pentecost. Jesus was killed on Passover, raised three days later, ascended 40 days after that, and then Pentecost occurred a week later. That day, it was Peter who took the lead. The same Peter that 50 days earlier had denied he even knew Jesus. That same Peter that had boasted he would die for Jesus if necessary. The Scriptures tell us that upon his third denial, with the reminder of the crowing rooster, he wept bitterly.
It is amazing to think that less than two months later, he was the main man in the founding of the New Testament Church and the beginning of the fulfillment of the Great Commission. Again, this was the man who denied he even knew Jesus after having spent three years with him! What?!
In our current culture of unforgiveness and “canceling,” to see Peter in this position is almost unfathomable once we see the timeline. How could he possibly be qualified to speak so soon after what he had done?
There is a powerful truth in this story: falling into sin doesn’t make us unworthy for ministry in the Kingdom. So often people get stuck spiritually when they fall hard—commit adultery, confess a porn addiction, or the like. As with Peter, the guilt overwhelms them. The result is their shame moves them further from the Lord. They consider themselves unworthy. Some people can remain in this state their whole lives. Yet, the truth is nothing that we do of which we are willing to repent can separate us from the Lord.
This is at the heart of Peter’s restoration. It is interesting to note that when the women first encountered the risen Jesus, he specifically told them to tell Peter. This was no coincidence; it was intentional because the Lord knew how devastated Peter was by his denial. Later, we learn from John that Jesus takes Peter aside to restore him. For each denial, Jesus responds with a question and then a command: “Do you love me? Feed my sheep.”
In this artful, gentle way, Jesus communicates to Peter his love for him and that he continues to have a role to play in the work of the Kingdom. Sin had derailed him briefly, but the Lord’s mercy had quickly got him back on track. When he is first named in Acts 1, he is back in the fold and leading the decision-making process for who would replace Judas Iscariot as the 12th Apostle.
I dare say that if Peter had lived in our current culture, he would have had only a minor, if any, role in establishing a new church. His sin would have disqualified him from having any leadership. And most of us, likely, would agree with that.
Here’s the problem with this thinking. It conveys to people that sin disqualifies us from any significant work in the Kingdom. Thus, they often become spiritually stuck because they believe there is no possibility for redemption and restoration. I was once told by a person many years ago that my recent divorce made me ineligible for any further ministry leadership. If her opinion had carried the day, I would not be in my current ministry position that I have held for the past 16 years.
Two truths are missing from this belief. One is that we are all sinners who fall short of the glory of God and in need of God’s mercy. The other is that one who is truly repentant can be fully restored to Kingdom work, just as Peter was.
My message last night, with its emphasis on Peter’s redemption, resonated with one student. She said she had felt similarly about herself. So many of us do. Yet, there is no reason to do so if we truly understand the breadth and depth of the Lord’s love for us. The last thing he wants is for ones he created and gifted to be sidelined from the work he has called them to do, and then be stuck there. That is the purpose repentance, grace and mercy serve. Without them, we’re all stuck.
© Jim Musser 2021 All Scripture references are from the New International Version, 2011.